UPDATE April 17, 2018, 4:00 P.M. EST: Starbucks is going to shut down all locations for implicit bias training on the afternoon of May 29th. It has also been reported that the employee who called the police and had the two black men wrongfully arrested no longer works at Starbucks.
The original story follows below:
On April 12, 2018, two black men who were waiting to meet up with a friend were arrested at the Rittenhouse Square Starbucks in Philadelphia. Reportedly, they were shouted at by the manager to make a purchase or leave and when they refused, the police were called. The Philadelphia Police Chief said the officers did nothing wrong. And, as far as police involvement with black people goes, they indeed simply did their job and arrested two men for sitting in a restaurant.
Judging by Starbucks’s first “apology,” the corporation didn’t seem to grasp the severity of the situation initially. It took two days for them to craft the following:
We apologize to the two individuals and our customers for what took place at our Philadelphia store on Thursday. pic.twitter.com/suUsytXHks
— Starbucks Coffee (@Starbucks) April 14, 2018
After the apology was deemed by many to be insufficient due to its brevity and stock prices took a hit, a lengthier apology video was released by the CEO, Kevin Johnson, where he stated that the onus falls on him to fix the situation. He also stated that he is going to visit Philadelphia to focus on how the company trains its employees to recognize and deal with “unconscious bias” and how to avoid this type of situation going forward. On the Good Morning America show, he said that he wanted to offer a face-to-face apology to the men who were wrongfully arrested. But, he also feels no action should be taken against the manager of this location and avoided calling it what it was: racial profiling.
FULL INTERVIEW: "I personally apologize…" Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson one-on-one with @RobinRoberts in his first interview after two black men were handcuffed at a Philadelphia store.
— Good Morning America (@GMA) April 16, 2018
I was appalled when I saw the video because my immediate thought was about the level of danger these men were unnecessarily placed in, due to the discomfort of a manager who was prompted to react in such an over-the-top manner at the sight of black men simply existing in their space.
“As gentrification spreads throughout the United States, white gentrifiers have a responsibility to decrease the police presence in the communities they’re occupying. Police departments have the tendency to over-police people of color in gentrifying neighborhoods to make new white residents feel safe, but police are more dangerous than any civilian.”
There has been a recent increase in discussions about workplace diversification with corporations beginning to hire black women in positions of leadership. The trend is touching the music industry and even last year Starbucks hired Rosalind Brewer. Brewer was hired as Chief Operating Officer in September 2017, after working as CEO of Walmart since 2012.
I have to wonder if she is being included in the conversations on how to move forward regarding Starbucks’s policies and what training or punishment the manager of this location should receive because diversity isn’t enough. Simply having black people in certain spaces means very little beyond a photo op, if they don’t have the power to affect a different outcome. A seat at the table is not the same thing as an equal voice at that table.
We cannot expect that merely hiring black people will balance the scales of justice, our voices must be not only heard but listened to when it comes to these matters. We need those positions to hold the appropriate amount of power to enact any substantial change.
A great example of being in a position of power and actually making changes that will have a huge impact is Keisha Lance Bottoms, new Atlanta Mayor. Mayor Bottoms seems determined to take on criminal justice reform.
She has let no grass grow under her feet in doing something about it. Bottoms caused some ripples when she requested that everyone in her cabinet turn in their letters of resignation, then on her 100th day in office she launched PAT3.
“Bottoms unveiled a new program that will allow nonviolent offenders to undergo vocational training to assist them in finding jobs after release. In some cases, the training will allow inmates to secure a city job before release.” – Blavity
Corporations must move beyond hiring a diverse workforce and also make it a priority to empower the voices of those that they hire. As wonderful as it seems to hear the CEO of Starbucks state that he feels this failure falls on him, I can’t help visualizing a white man going to smooth things over with other white people. The opportunity for a deeper, more inclusive conversation may be missed.
As someone who has frequented Starbucks for years, partially due to their progressive business practices, I am highly disappointed and can only hope that Mr. Johnson holds true to his words on training to avoid “unconscious bias.” But as for now, I will be making my own overly complicated cuppa joe at home or purchasing from a local coffee house until I’m sure that my cafe au lait colored skin doesn’t mark me an instant criminal.